With inflation going through the roof, Northern Ireland’s status increasingly in question and a leadership class progressively less able to tell us what a woman is, the belief articulated by Cecil Rhodes that being born an Englishman is to win “the greatest prize in the lottery of life” seems as outrageous as it is outdated.
But in some respects, even today, the inhabitants at least of the English part of the UK have much for which to be thankful.
England has left Covid behind.
As the Health Secretary Sajid Javid said earlier in the year, the country will have to learn to live with Covid as it does the flu. With that, all restrictions, mandates and passports were lifted.
The asphyxiating layer of official cellophane that spread over the whole country and hung over our combined heads for close to twenty four months was finally withdrawn. And the heralds sang.
Artificial divisions between “Vaxxers” and “Anti-Vaxxers” disappeared overnight
The artificial, highly politicised and cynical societal divisions created over the course of 24 months between clever “Vaxxers” and conspiratorial “Anti-Vaxxers” disappeared more or less overnight.
England moved on.
Our rickety political machinery at home delivered two large blows against the Executive and its Covid policies in December 2021. The landslide by-election defeat in North Shropshire and the large Tory backbench rebellion led our politicians to change tack.
From pushing for vaccine passports and mandates, they did a dexterous volte face and promptly dropped all attempts at control in a few short weeks.
England became free again, while much of Europe stayed in bondage.
In the meantime many European countries have made progress along the road back to sanity, aping (although they wouldn’t like to admit it) Boris and Brexit Britain in the process.
Very visible aspects of state enforced repression are still noticeable, however — hanging over the European populace like a heavy and greyish cloud ready to burst.
Over the past three months, Italians over fifty, Greeks over sixty and all Austrians saw their respective governments dial the repression to eleven by enforcing vaccine mandates.
On 4 February, the Austrian government passed a vaccine mandate law just as Omicron revealed itself as one of the world’s most benign viruses.
All main parties joined together late last year to make sure the vaccine mandates would pass. The Socialists (SPO), Conservatives (OVP), Greens and Liberal Democrats (Neos) colluded in November 2021, and excluded opposing views from participating in any meaningful discussions to approve the drafting of the law.
In other words, they dipped their hands in the blood of civil rights denial to pass this law. In doing so, they revealed to all that human rights were no match against political expediency.
In Austria, the weeks between November 2021 and February 2022 were particularly unpleasant. The media, experts and the political class used extremely aggressive language. They threatened persecution, fines and imprisonment.
Some grey beards, who know Austria well, thought it typical and bet on a rapid climb-down. The key reasons from their perspective were based on a simple point and sharp observations: The Austria Republic would not have the resources in both manpower and available technology and would be facing increasing popular outrage.
The wise men’s prognostications were tested and found to be very perceptive.
Indeed the results of a local by-election in Lower Austria only eight weeks ago showed an unimaginative political class that actions have consequences.
The ruling party (OVP) lost over 30 per cent of its support since the last election in 2017. A new party, the MFG (Menschen, Freiheit und Grundrechte), loosely translated as the party for “People, Freedom and Fundamental Rights”, received 17 per cent of the votes from a standing start. The national papers called this a “political bomb”. Unlike in England, the Austrian political class pressed on regardless.
Then Russia invaded Ukraine.
Austria’s vaccine mandate was suspended, not revoked
Stuck deep in unpopularity and caught in a quagmire of its own making, the Austrian government, to paraphrase Jo Moore, thought the occasion a good time to bury bad policy.
On 9 March, only a month after having passed one of the most repressive and authoritarian laws since 1945, the government quietly dropped or (more accurately) suspended the vaccine mandate law. It said that “the mandate was being suspended and there is currently no need to enforce it” and added that a “commission of (undisclosed) experts” will “re-evaluate the situation in mid-June”.
The law still hangs like a sword of Damocles over the heads of around a fifth of the Austrian population and more when the authorities finally define with precision what “fully vaccinated” means.
The law was not revoked, merely suspended. The devil, as we have been shown repeatedly recently, really is in the detail.
Austria led Europe down the road to extreme repression, realised that the world’s many populations were losing patience with their leaders, but pressed on regardless, hoping against hope for something that would allow them to emulate Boris and co.
Putin provided that wiggle room — along with most of Austria’s energy supplies — and to give them credit, Austrian politicians took their chance and ran with it.
However, before those who love the idea of being free start celebrating too much about this turn-around, remember Austrians, Italians and Germans are still required to wear masks, most have to show test results in most public spaces (although a positive test is less freedom sapping than it once was) and can only travel with proof of either vaccination or immunisation.
In other words, our Austrian and sundry European cousins are not free.
It would be a damn shame if the people of this beautiful and romantic country got used to the idea that their freedom comes from politicians currently in power rather than being their right by birth.
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